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PALM LATITUDES

HACK ATTACK : Cybersex

August 15, 1993|Sheldon Teitelbaum

Computer buffs interested in plugging into the kind of hot virtual realities available on the holodeck of the Enterprise or in the universe of Oliver Stone's "Wild Palms" may be in for more of a wait than their libidos can endure: Whole-body suits capable of inserting a person into a computer-concocted, sensually convincing sexual encounter are still at least a generation off. But this summer, a small Santa Monica company called Interotica took a small step toward computer-generated exchanges with a CD-ROM-based program called "The Dream Machine."

The program, which seems to offer a combination peep show and Masters and Johnson therapy session, could even conceivably give "Sliver" screenwriter Joe Eszterhas the willies. Users wander through a hallway, peeping into rooms where they can watch as video versions of various sexual encounters take place. Each room--there are 10 in all--harbors a different kind of no-holds-barred sexual activity. At the end of each, a software-generated "agent"--whose appearance and demeanor is selected by the user--queries the viewer about his or her reaction. Based on the responses, the user can then be treated to what the programmers characterize as a custom-tailored sexual fantasy.

Interotica spokesman and co-founder Lawrence Miller is a 25-year-old UCSB graduate for whom PC obviously has manifold meanings. He says that the "Dream Machine," which is due out in September and will retail for $69.95, was designed for men because men tend to buy adult products. "But the scripts were co-written by women," he says. "There's nothing in them that is particularly degrading, and there's no reason why a woman couldn't enjoy the product.

"We've all got girlfriends and we've all been educated," adds Miller. "None of us come out of the adult industry (Interotica boasts 15 employees, almost all in their mid-20s), and the last thing any of us would want to do is promote unhealthy interactions."

Miller doesn't seem particularly worried about the possibility he may appear in future history books as someone else who, to paraphrase the late cultural curmudgeon Allan Bloom, helped undermine Eros. "This is a powerful medium," he says. "The potential is there for people prone to become alienated to become alienated. But we also envision virtual reality sex as a vehicle for people to interact with others in a way they might not feel comfortable in reality."

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